I am a longtime fan of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox. They hold the record for one of baseball’s great comebacks.
In 2004, they trailed the New York Yankees by three games to none in a best-of-seven league championship series. Nonetheless, they went on to win four games straight, advanced to the World Series, and won it by beating the St. Louis Cardinals in four games.
Now, consider Israel. After a military debacle that saw the IDF unable to protect the people of Israel on October 7 – a major failure – the IDF and the people of Israel have made a strong recovery and comeback.
Showing resilience and unity, facing foes in the South (Hamas), the North (Hezbollah), northeast (Syrian militias), east (West Bank violence), and afar (Houthis), Israel, a nation of nine million, uses grit, creativity, technology, and cool-headed focus to defeat our enemies, who are backed by many of the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims and oil-rich Arab states.
In book publishing, as in comedy, timing is everything. The new book The Genius of Israel, by authors of Start-Up Nation Dan Senor and Carl Singer, was planned long before October 7. Published on November 7, one month after the horrendous massacre, it explains the core values and qualities that are propelling Israel’s comeback.
Originally, its focus was the internal dissension over the attack on democracy, as the subtitle indicates – “The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World.” The new book, based on interviews with 100 Israelis, explains “why Israel has shown surprising resilience against many trends that have been sapping affluent societies of their health and vitality. …Israel shows there is nothing inevitable about decline and despair. There is a way to live with, and even thrive in, an age of rapid change and uncertainty.”
The authors’ bestseller Start-Up Nation, published in 2011, sold millions of copies and was translated into 30 languages. It is known to be closely read by Muslim leaders. It addressed the trillion-dollar question: How come Israel, a country of 7.1 million, only 63 years old at the time of publication, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources, produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?
In a stroke of luck, The Genius of Israel emerges precisely when we Israelis most need a morale boost! It digs beneath the start-ups to explain the wellspring sources of creative genius and resilience that drive them. Here are a few of those creativity drivers:
Israel is a young country, and its young people are full of creative energy. The median age in Europe is 41.3 years. Europe feels old, acts old.
Israel’s median age is a dozen years younger: 29. And Israel remains youthful; total fertility (number of children per woman) exceeds three, while in Europe, in most countries it is below replacement. An Israeli demographer quoted by Senor and Singer notes that in terms of having children, “Israel is operating in a completely different dimension than all other developed countries.”
Senor and Singer note a distressing fact. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey done in 28 wealthy countries showed that people in more than half (15) say their country is more divided than in the past. And fewer than a third say they would help those they disagreed with politically. This is not the case in Israel.
Sammy Smooha, a scholar of comparative ethnic relations who has researched the internal divisions in Israeli society, observes that “in Israel, contribution to the public good is still an ever-present demand. Israelis are expected to take the national interest into consideration, not just to cater to their private careers and kin.” Call-ups for army reserve duty exceeded 100% after October 7, with many showing up who were not even called.
Many nations have grown wealthy through free competition and capitalism. The basic tenet of capitalism is the right (obligation?) of the individual to accumulate income and wealth, with a focus on the individual. Israel was born with a socialist culture – and it lingers, despite major efforts to stamp it out. The well-being of the nation counts for a lot in Israel. This explains in part the massive near year-long protest movement against efforts to weaken democracy.
Author Paul Johnson, a Christian who has written wisely about Jews, noted that “Judaism has managed a delicate balance between individual rights and collective responsibility.” This echoes the concept of the Roman writer Seneca, who wrote that “if [a person] wants to live for his own benefit, he must also live for the benefit of others.”
Senor and Singer quote author Yossi Klein Halevi, who wrote: “Israel works on the basis of two essential social units: The family…and even stronger is the chevreh, which functions as almost a super family.” Chevreh means friends from high school, youth groups, university, army, and work. Many Israelis have lifelong friends from kindergarten days.
According to the Pew Research Center, a 2019 opinion poll asked, “What aspect of your life do you currently find fulfilling or satisfying?” Some 69% of Israelis answered “family,” while one-third said “career.”
“Israeli society is like a very strong rubber band,” Senor and Singer write. “However stretched it becomes, there are strong forces pulling it back together.” Israeli society has been supremely stretched since November 2022. It has bounced back amazingly.
Jews love to argue. The Talmud is one long debate – 2,711 pages’ worth. Jewish People Policy Institute president Yedidia Stern, when asked what makes Israel work, responded: “The disputes mentality. It is very Jewish. It is in our blood. It’s one of the advantages that Israeli society has, compared to others.” Out of fierce arguments emerge strong creative ideas – ideas that in innovative medical devices, for instance, have saved millions of lives.
After marrying and making aliyah, I did shortened army service and 30 years of reserve duty. I can attest that the IDF changed my life. I met, ate with, and trained with people I would never have encountered in university life. I became an Israeli after donning baggy khaki pants and shirt.
Senor and Singer note: “Swapping a lengthy and challenging military service for university studies profoundly changes the experience of growing up in Israel, the formative decade of young adulthood, and the values of society that guide people throughout the rest of their lives.”
The late UK chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks summed up the genius of Israel best in a sermon. “This one tiny people,” he wrote, “survived tragedies that would have spelled the end of any other people: The destruction of two Temples, the Babylonian and Roman conquests, the expulsions, persecutions, and pogroms of the Middle Ages, the rise of antisemitism in 19th-century Europe, and the Holocaust.
“It is truly astonishing,” he concluded, “that after each cataclysm, Judaism renewed itself, scaling new heights of achievement.”
And that is precisely what Israel is focused on doing at the present time. ■
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at S. Neaman Institute, Technion. He blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com.
- The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World
- Dan Senor and Saul Singer
- Simon & Schuster, New York, 2023
- 328 pages; $14.99
Antisemites: You owe us!
Here are some of the life-changing and life-saving innovations developed by Israeli genius and used worldwide:
- SniffPhone is a hand-held medical diagnostics device that can actually “sniff out” diseases. It is now undergoing medical trials and evolved from the NaNose technology of Technion Prof. Hossam Haick. It can detect cancer, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis with high accuracy.
- ReWalk Exoskeleton is a battery-powered exoskeleton developed to help paraplegic patients walk. Its inventor, Dr. Amit Goffer, devised the system after being left paralyzed due to an accident. It enables patients to recover the ability to walk, stand up, and climb stairs.
- PillCam is a digestible, disposable medical camera device designed to be swallowed. It diagnoses and treats infections, such as intestinal disorders and digestive system cancers. Data is sent from the camera to an external receiver; it is revolutionizing gastroenterology. It was developed by former Rafael engineer Gavriel Meron.
- EluNIR is a flexible stent. It has saved millions of lives since it was developed in 1996. It opens up arteries to treat coronary heart disease and avoids the need for open-heart surgery. It was developed by the Israeli start-up Medinol, founded by doctors Judith and Kobi Richter.
- Netafim is an innovative drip irrigation system developed in the 1960s by inventor and engineer Simcha Blass. He thought about the idea when observing adjacent trees whereby one was noticeably larger than the other. By 1967, drip irrigation had increased crop yields in Israel by 70%. It soon spread around the world.
- Watergen is a moisture farming device that allows water to be condensed out of thin air. Watergen’s generators cool and liquidize air vapor, producing up to four liters of water for every kilowatt-hour of electricity they use. Developed by former senior military officer Arye Kohavi, the original goal was to provide water to troops in remote areas. It is used today in disaster zones around the world and has the potential to provide drinking water for millions of people.
- Mobileye was developed in 1999 by inventor Prof. Amon Shashua. It consists of a tiny camera and clever software to alert motorists of potential hazards. It has saved many lives.
- Waze is a GPS system that guides drivers to their destinations while avoiding traffic jams. It was developed by Ehud Shabati and was an instant hit. Today, it provides real-time traffic information for millions of users worldwide.